Bouncing around on Balmoral

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I woke up this morning to radio reports of freak weather and winds of up to 120 mph battering France, and my thoughts immediately turned to Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, which I reported earlier this week had been bouncing around in the Bay of Biscay.
It looks like there has been no respite for the passengers who have been suffering at the hands of the elements. I spent two days in winds of up to storm force 10 in the Bay, on board Olsen’s Black Watch a few years ago, so I know what they have been going through.
Standing in the Observatory Bar, glass of Guinness in hand, watching the bow dig into the huge waves, was a memorable experience, and I have to admit that it was more comfortable lying in bed in the cabin, listening to the howling wind and the creaking structure, as the fruit bowl crashed to the floor, and the bathroom shelves emptied themselves.
Some pictures emerged during the week of Balmoral’s departure from La Coruna, in north-west Spain, and I have to admit they looked so dramatic, my first impression was that they had been faked.
But no, they are genuine, so see for yourselves the heavy seas that the ship has been facing. My thanks to Jose Montero and
Dramatic as they are, looking at the full-sized versions, I can see passengers braving the outside decks.
As you can see from the column on the right, I have received a couple of messages about the cruise. The first was from a passenger on board who was travelling with one of those taken to hospital in La Coruna. It turns out she was not injured on board, but had unfortunately tripped and fallen just before boarding in Dover.
Another message comes from Olive Howard, whose sister and husband are on Balmoral for their first-ever cruise. Looks like it’s going to be their last.
Let’s hope that things are a little calmer in Cherbourg today.

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:49+00:00 24 January 2009|Cruise News, Cruise Ships|9 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.


  1. Caroline Richmond 24 January 2009 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Those of us on board Balmoral are a bit fed up with Fred Olsen. The company must have had a good inkling that major storms were approaching and that reaching Lisbon and Tangier was unlikely.
    We think they kept mum about it rather than risk having 1000 passengers cancelling and asking for refunds.

  2. Roger W Sutherland 27 January 2009 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    I agree with Caroline Richmond, an fact I question the wisdom of Fred Olsen scheduling a cruise in January centred on The Bay of Biscay.
    The cruise should have been entitled ‘A Magical Mystery Tour’ rather than ‘Sun and Souks’ -we saw neither of the latter and were kept guessing as to where we were likely to end up in respect of the former!
    Congratulations are due however, to the Master for his superb seamanship and his attempts to minimise discomfort to his passengers throughout a prolonged and very uncomfortable period.
    What an unforgettable experience, though not one I’d wish to repeat.

  3. Lorraine & Bruce Elliott 27 January 2009 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    We have just returned from our “mystery cruise” – what a nightmare. We also wonder whether the cruise should have been cancelled – however we can’t see that happening, but must say that it has done F.O. no good having so many passengers (and crew) injured and extremely frightened. Several people were thrown out of their beds. We spoke to many people who will never cruise again. However, a good word must be said for the captain who gave many amusing announcements and obviously had our safety in mind. He also repeatedly gave us his sincere apologies which was well received. The crew were magnificent, how on earth they cook, serve, and clean in those conditions and keep smiling, when we couldn’t even stand up, is amazing. The photos don’t do the experience justice, our cabin on deck 5 was below the waterline on several occasions!
    Bruce & Lorraine Elliott

  4. robin nettleton 3 February 2009 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I was on that paid a grand for me and a grand for my old Mum as a treat,it was a nightmare how dare they allow the ship to sail in those conditions and then keep going for 4 days in gale force ten conditions only to tell us we would not be going to the destinations that were the reasons everyone booked- a dangerous disgrace,and another example of putting profit and greed before the welfare of people.Shame on you Fred Olsen.

  5. Anonymous 3 February 2009 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I got noro virus on that boat too just to add insult to injury ,we were lucky the ship didnt break up on the water,the way it was being pushed-how did this happen Fred Olsen?

  6. James Pyner 6 February 2009 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    My wife and I were also on the ill fated cruise of the Balmoral (BL032) and I too would question the wisdom of going ahead with this cruise given the serious and deteriorating weather conditions. At the end of the day all of the passengers were “land lubbers” NOT seasoned old salts that are accustomed to the kind of weather we were subjected to.
    Quite apart from anything else the passenger list was primarily elderly people, who, for whatever reason would find getting around without assistance of either a wheelchair/zimmer difficult at the best of times, never mind the kind of weather we were subjected to and had to endure for 4 days.
    I have had, in common I would suggest with everybody on that cruise, a “round robin” letter, suggesting that FOCL have invoked the “force majeure” clause, to limit any claim. I do not think that they can do this as the definition of “force majeure” is, and I quote from the Oxford concise dictionary
    “Irresistable compulsion or coercion, unforseeable course of events excusing from fulfilment of contract”.
    The Captain, at his first emergency meeting told us that they had been aware of the weather systems that caused these storms for some 9 days before the vessel was due to sail, and surely the fact that the Balmoral was some 4 hrs. late from the previous cruise due to severe and deteriorating weather in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, should have reinforced the notion that the weather could become dangerously severe.
    I am convinced, and have advised FOCL accordingly, that they were well aware of the weather situation, that they could not be certain that the weather would deteriorate to the extent that it did, it was for sure that it was going to become dangerously severe. It is my contention that FOCL embarked on this cruise NOT for the sole enjoyment and safety of the passengers, but for corporate gain. Had the passengers welfare been the prime concern of FOCL, then we would have been advised BEFORE the vessel sailed to enable us, as passengers, to make a considered decision as whether we sailed or not.
    It was interesting to note that when we we arrived back in Dover, the shore staff had been instructed NOT to discuss the cruise with any passengers. I wonder why.
    Would be intested in any other passenger views.

  7. Mary Ryan 7 February 2009 at 10:22 am - Reply

    I also was on this cruise,and every day I awaited an appearance of Sid James, Barbara Windsor & co, because I felt sure, that it was a practice run for a ” Carry On Cruising film”.
    The cruise should have been cancelled since FOCL was fully aware of the imminent weather conditions. Even then,precautions were not taken, i.e. no cupboarddoors,wardrobe doors or drawers had locks on them, so trhey constantly shooting out and shooting back.Not even were there any on the Dining room work staions, where we witnessed, three massive drawers, containing cutlery etc, shooting out, and landing on the floor, about three feeet away from where we were sitting. If they had caught someone, they would have killed them! The plumbing was disgraceful. Twice our toilet and handbasin were blocked, and when I called for a plumber, and he finally appeared,and asked me if I chewed tobacco and was spitting it down the sink!!!
    (What planet was he on!!!)
    FOCL did not exonerate themselves in any way,—and they took the easy way out. We spent two days in Cherborg, and then Antwerp for two days. Both places you would want to visit on a cruise!!! Exotic places I don’t think! Especially to those who live in the South of England who could very easily ” pop over” those places on a day trip. Why didn’t they just take us back to Dover, and be done with it all.
    Do refunds for all, spring to mind?!!!!!

  8. Caroline Richmond 7 February 2009 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Some corrections are needed: we had two days of storms, and they were gale force nine winds with force ten gusts.
    I didn’t get food poisoning, and indeed the company were very hygiene-minded, giving us — and the crew — a dollop of hand disinfectant every time we entered the dining room.
    I had no problems with the plumbing in my cabin.
    Two passengers were wheelchaired off with injuries; one was my travelling companion, who had tripped and fallen at Dover station before she embarked.
    The drawers in my cabin shot open and shut as the ship rocked and rolled. I wedged them shut with a sock, and most people did something similar — but a few people felt it was outrageous, and complained.
    Out stops at Lisbon and Tangier were cancelled to avoid worse storms, so we had an extra half day at Bilbao, an unexpected day at Cherbourg, and an equally unexpected one and a half days at Antwerp.
    These stops enabled me to see the Bayeaux tapestry, the Plantin museum in Antwerp (both UNESCO world heritage sites) and the van Eyck alterpiece at Ghent.
    So it was not all bad.

  9. ian waterworth 22 April 2009 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    the both shilps are really good i never been ill in my live put on the black watch was really good and the staff was does out standing the bar staff at the ship only one bad weather was at sea i was ill

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